Fairy tales can often invoke history. They also revive lost memories at times. Like the voyage of an adventurous princess from Ayodhya, who-despite being on board a ship damaged by storm-decided to sail on till she reached the famed Land of the Morning Calm (Korea), where she fell in love with a handsome prince and married him to live happily ever after.
Two thousand years later the story is playing back, to Ayodhya, from where it began, conferring upon it the unique status of being a kin city of Kim-Hae, the prosperous South Korean town to which the prince belonged. The account can be found in Samguk Yusa, a tract written by a medieval monk, Iryon (1206-1289).
Kim-Haes mayor Song Eun Bok reached Ayodhya with a 13-member delegation on February 28 to shake off the dust and amnesia that had settled on the 2,000-year-old link between the two cities.
The mythic birthplace of Lord Rama received Song and the other envoys in its inimitable style. From the traditional tika to namavalis, nothing was left wanting as the temple towns administration, its rajah and its mahants took turns to welcome the foreigners. The chairperson of the Ayodhya municipality even handed over a symbolic golden key to their town. This was followed by the presentation of a model of the proposed Ram Janmabhoomi temple to the mayor.
Says Song: "We thought the new millennium was the ideal time to revive the old bond." The Koreans believe the origins of the powerful Kim clan can be traced to this marriage. South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong Pil in a letter addressed to the rajah of Ayodhya, Bimalendra Mohan Pratap Mishra, claims: "I am the 72nd descendant of King Kim Suro of the Karak Kingdom." As of now, the population of the Kim clan exceeds six million in Korea and most of its leaders belong to this clan.
Last year, the Korean prime minister specially invited Mishra, the heir to the throne of Ayodhya. In his letter the prime minister wrote: "I would like to invite the descendants of the Ayodhya kingdom to the grand memorial ceremony for King Kim Suro to be held this spring." Reveals Mishra: "Despite me telling the Koreans that my family history dates back to only 250 years, they insisted that I be honoured as I belonged to the royal family of this city."
Mishra, who was honoured as a state guest in South Korea, remembers the respect and warmth with which he was treated. Mishra had then assured the Koreans that they would be allowed to erect a monument similar to the one in Kim-Hae city in memory of their princess. That is why, with the government showing little interest in clearing the custom duty of $2,400, Mishra is willing to go ahead with the payment so that the monument that has reached the Calcutta port can be carted to Ayodhya. According to Chong Lee, South Korean ambassador to India, at the time of installation at least 500 Koreans will visit Ayodhya.
A spot has been earmarked at the famous Ram ki Pauri for the 7,500 kg Korean monument. The Korean delegates were taken to all the important landmarks in the town, including the Ram Janmabhoomi site. Holy chants welcomed them everywhere. A little befuddled by the clanging cymbals, blowing conchs and the marigold petals, Song remarked, "I am touched by this city which is entrenched in spiritualism."
Besides a taste of holiness, the delegates also got a whiff of the commercial life of Ayodhya and Faizabad when they were shown around the twin cities. Their keenness prompted them to visit several small industries which included paper mills and agro-industries. Speaking at the Ayodhya-Kim Hae City Alliance Meet organised by the Indian Industries Association, Faizabad chapter, South Korean ambassador Chong Lee said, "It would be wise, now on, to organise trade groups from Faizabad to visit Korea so that they could learn the hi-tech facilities available there. "
A protocol agreement that has been signed between the mayors of the two cities foresees smooth trade and cultural links. Both sides have decided to collaborate in local government services which include education, health, sport, cultural activities and economy. To begin with, the South Koreans have committed investments of $10 million in four of the ongoing projects in the twin towns. They also met chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta after their two-day Ayodhya stay. Says a hopeful Gupta, "For them UP offers unlimited potential. We look forward to many more tie-ups with them."
Dinner suits and ties draped in saffron with the name of Lord Rama printed all over seemed to symbolise a hybrid Indo-Korean culture that seems to be emerging. One can only hope that Ayodhya, by travelling back in time, is able to breathe the healthy air of friendship and not the acrimony to which its been so used to.